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How widespread is bullying in professional sports?
The Miami Dolphins have suspended guard Richie Incognito over allegations that he bullied teammates and forced rookie players to pay for expensive meals and trips.
Fox Sports first reported that offensive lineman Jonathan Martin took a leave of absence from the team after a prank left him upset. Fox called it the last straw after “persistent bullying” from teammates.
In his formal complaint against his teammate, Martin says Incognito threatened him and sent racially-charged text messages and voicemail messages.
The Dolphins have asked the NFL to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
And before we take a break, let's check in on what's becoming a big story in football. Sunday the Miami Dolphins suspended veteran Richie Incognito over allegations that he bullied rookie teammates into paying for expensive meals and trips. According to ESPN, offensive lineman Jonathan Martin took a leave from the team last week because of the bullying.
The Miami Herald's Adam Beasley is here, and Adam, you write that every team in the NFL has a rookie dinner in which the rookies pay for the veterans' meal. It's kind of a traditional initiation. But you talked with a new, younger player on the Dolphins who said that what is happening there is way beyond that. What are the accusations?
ADAM BEASLEY: You have a rookie who's basically gone broke, he's living paycheck to paycheck because in addition to all the other expenses an NFL player incurs, he's also been on the hook for huge bills for his teammates. So, yeah, this is just part of it, but it's a broader story within the Dolphins. It's starting to look like a dysfunctional organization at this point. It's really getting bad.
YOUNG: Well, tell us more. You write that some of the veterans are actually living these huge lifestyles because they're strong-arming the rookies to pay for it.
BEASLEY: Yeah, these rookies are going along to get along because they don't want to make waves in the locker room, and it's really hurting them financially. So it's a big problem for sure, but it's not just a problem in Miami. It's a problem league-wide and pro-sports-wide to be honest. I mean, everybody has this issue.
YOUNG: Well, some people are looking at this and saying, well, actually this might help with the issue of bullying that's so pervasive in schools. If kids can see even huge linemen like Jonathan Martin can feel that they're being bullied, it's something that can happen to anyone, and it can be addressed. What's the sense of how this can happen? These rookies are huge.
BEASLEY: You have to understand just because the size of a person is large doesn't mean their personality is overbearing. I mean, Jonathan Martin comes from a Harvard-educated family. He went to Stanford. I don't really even know if football is his first passion. I don't know if he particularly loves the game so much.
He's had a tough two seasons, hasn't played particularly well, and he's had trouble fitting in for sure. We saw last year firsthand he got some of the predictable rookie hazing, you know, ribbing that goes on. We never had any idea it was to this extent, though, and it seems like he just reached a breaking point, and he couldn't stand it any longer.
YOUNG: Well, there was an ESPN report Sunday morning that Incognito pressured Martin to help pay for a $15,000 unofficial team vacation in Las Vegas that Martin wasn't even on. But, you know, Incognito has been pushing back on this. He's been very vocal on Twitter, taking on ESPN's Adam Schefter, saying, you know, you're not naming names. If you or any of your agents you sound off for have a problem with me, you know where to find me, hashtag bring it.
What's the Dolphins' management say?
BEASLEY: You should understand that all those remarks came before Adam Schefter's basically bombshell report at 10:40, which had a lot more detail. Ever since then, the Dolphins have stepped away. They've suspended Incognito, and he's been quiet on Twitter. So I think that brash side of him that we saw yesterday is gone for the foreseeable future.
YOUNG: But is anyone stepping forward to defend Incognito, to say either that it's not true or that it's much more pervasive than his pressure?
BEASLEY: You won't see that from the organization because now they have a liability issue. They have an employee-versus-employee dispute, and they can't mediate that. They need the league to get involved, and the league is, the NFL is, investigating this.
But that doesn't mean Incognito doesn't have allies in the locker room. This afternoon we'll go to that locker room and have a chance to talk to them. My guess is, however, they've been instructed by their coach and their PR handlers not to say anything. So it sounds like Incognito might be hung out to dry for the time being, at least.
YOUNG: Well, and he had his detractors before this. He was voted the second-dirtiest player in the league in a player pool in the Sporting News. He's gotten into verbal altercations with coaches, was suspended for the 2004 season in college at Nebraska because of off-field incidents. Are people talking about behavior in general that's accepted that then may translate into this bullying of, or alleged bully of, rookies?
BEASLEY: No doubt the NFL locker room is far more permissive of what other industries would see completely unacceptable behavior, just because it's a locker room culture. However, at some point there is a line that even in the locker room you can't cross, and Martin's people are saying that he crossed it.
YOUNG: Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, thanks so much.
BEASLEY: Happy to join you.
YOUNG: And a quick check now on another story we're following as we wait for election day tomorrow. A lot of people looking at the new charismatic mayor of Compton, California, turning heads at city hall. Thirty-one-year-old Asia Brown made history in the city this past summer when she became the youngest mayor to ever be elected there. Her story later on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.